GFWD asked a good question – no, not the one about this blog being “just a dream inside of a snow globe of some little kid’s mind”, although that’s pretty awesome – but about the bigger scripts we’ve worked on every year since we started. When you work in our business, you have to be cagy beyond belief, since there’s always the fear someone will come and hijack your material, but shit, I’ve been scooped so many times I barely care anymore. I’m sure Tessa would be okay with me giving a very, very small description of these, since they’re either too bizarre to steal, or too convoluted to translate.
Here’s a partial list of what we’ve been working on, and some of them are still in the game, so I’ll be vague:
2004: Hogwarts School in America. Sorta.
2005: Tessa’s documentary set to drama.
2006: A fighting couple can fix anyone’s problem.
2007: A paranoid conspiracy thriller romance mixing the ideas of “Griffin and Sabine”, “The Tipping Point” and my then-fear of flying.
2008: Comedy about a family rallying around a dysfunctional brother.
2009: Spooky police procedural set in a “Twilight Zone” Manhattan.
2010: Four or perhaps five projects vying for first position in our collective heads, but one is autobiographical, one is political, and one is supernatural.
Sound interesting? Okay, I’m off to suck frosting off candles! As it were!
Let me be brutally honest. It’s my birthday in a few days, which always brings on big-picture musings. Maybe if I just say it out loud, the solar disinfectant will do the rest.
I’m not particularly happy in California, and I realize most of this has been my fault – I haven’t gone out of my way to make friends, and despite constant meetings in the Biz, I’m a bit of a shut-in. Sure, you can always decide to be happy with a place, but then again, anyone who knows me knows I enjoy being pissed off much more than showing magnanimous restraint.
As Tessa calls it, New York is my oxygen. Being at the farm, seeing my family, cavorting with old friends and just being back on the East Coast provides constant joy, but I can’t be a whale, spending my life underwater only to rise to the surface to inhale great gulps of air. I need to be able to breathe where I live.
Besides, leaving California is an impossibility right now. Lucy just got into the kindergarten/grade school of her (well, our) dreams, Tessa is thriving, and we live in a great spot on the ocean. And coming back to NY now, as much as I don’t want to think like an un-evolved twit, would feel like a massive failure on my part.
As writers go, we’ve been super blessed. We’ve gotten a great script deal almost every year since 2004, which meant food on the table, bigger meetings, and still being a player in the game. Twice we’ve come close to shooting our own pilot. Lots of people in our avocation would consider us living the dream, but for Tessa and I, we never cared about the Hollywood thing, the incidentals, the starfuckery… we only wanted to be working on great shows.
And so I live in the liminal between two places: a dreamland I can’t let go of, and a homeland that won’t let go of me. I spent 25 years making my friends, I just don’t know if I have the energy to make any more. Your people are your people, your tribe is the only one that can make you laugh.
I sat on the deck I made today, staring out over the expanse of the Taconics and the Catskills, and tried to breathe, but it’s hard to relax when you feel like your time is on loan from another place. Like all long-distance relationships, there’s too much pressure on the fleeting weekends, and too much imparted during the longing looks at airports. I want the same thing as the Buddha, Confucius and Buckaroo Banzai: to know that wherever you go, there you are.
I just pulled into our farm in upstate New York, having driven from Iowa City in a minivan with two apple trees, a little girl’s purple bicycle, a deflated redneck above-ground pool and a tiny dog. Any of you found yourself in surreal circumstances over the last few weeks?
In September 2004, Tessa and I were driving to Los Angeles through Iowa, and my brother Kent took us to Wilson’s Orchard not far from their house in Iowa City. I’ve always had a thing for apple orchards – the simplicity, the overflowing of fruit, even the apples-gone-bad smell in mid-October – but Wilson’s is truly a legendary place.
We sampled at least a dozen different varieties, but when we came to one particular tree, I was thunderstruck. The particular apples on a tree they called the Song of September were the most amazing I’d ever experienced. All the crisp tartness of a good Granny Smith, the sweetness of a Fuji and Braeburn, the spice of those New Zealand “Jazz” apples, and an extra spice all its own. I picked about 20, feeding them to random horses in Wyoming as we made our way westward.
That tree has never left my consciousness, and last year, I did the research: its other name is “Sweet Sixteen”, and it was a hybrid of very old trees developed by the University of Minnesota thirty years ago to withstand their brutal winters. The stunning flavor was basically a happy accident.
Very few places carry the Song of September tree in semi-dwarf form (normal apple trees grow 30 feet tall, and make picking a big problem), but I found two: a nursery in Wisconsin, and one, conveniently, on the other side of Iowa City. I called and reserved the last one they had.
Instead of flying back to New York like we usually do right now, I flew to Iowa City today. Tomorrow, I’m going to hand with my brother Kent, then I’m going to fetch my semi-dwarf apple tree (along with a different varietal for pollination) and drive the rest of the way to our farm in New York. And, god willing, Lucy and Tessa will help me put it in the ground somewhere wonderful, as part of their birthdays and Mother’s Day. O sweet Song of September, I pray you shall be mine!
The winner of our cute li’l NIT pool (god, please spare us from that ever again) ended up being someone anonymous… well, actually, *I* know who it is, but I’m not sure he can out himself. So until we get that little bit of no-fun behind us, I’m going to hand over the reins today to “once a heel” from the comments section, given his expertise on last week’s human body topics.
Given all the crap we’re fed (as it were) about supplements, diets, and what to put in our esophagii, I wanted someone to break it down for us Young MC-style, so here he is:
Ian asked that I write a blog about nutrition, but I don’t feel comfortable giving advice about individual eating/exercise regimens (talk to your doctors). However, I do know a little something about metabolism and biochemistry and, like many of you, share an interest in why things are the way they are. I also prefer to remain an “internet expert” which means I value my anonymity and as such there’s no reason for any of you to ascribe credibility to anything I say here.
So instead I’m going to recommend you watch this:
It’s a 90-minute seminar given by Dr. Robert Lustig to students at UCSF arguing a major factor contributing to the obesity epidemic in this country (and spreading worldwide). Now I know what you’re thinking… but give it a chance. The guy is fairly entertaining. There’s some technical biochemistry stuff in the middle (which he actually undersells, IMO) but any good Carolina grad should be able to follow the rest of it.
Disclaimer: the guy is trying to drive home a point, which means he uses inflammatory language, only pays lip service to other contributing factors, and in some cases, ignores some data that doesn’t quite fit the hypothesis. So while what he says here shouldn’t be taken as the be-all and end-all about why we’re so damn fat, he does highlight some interesting issues in the course of telling his story.
In a nutshell:
1) a key change in our diet began in the 70’s.
We reduced the amount of fat we ate while dramatically increasing the amount of fructose consumption (by as much as 5X).
2) the change was driven by political, economic, and scientific forces that were (at least partially) well-intentioned.
Nixon, who was fighting a “War on Poverty”, didn’t want the cost of food to be a political issue in the elections – food prices needed to get lower (and more stable). Around this time, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) hit the US – it was so cheap (and sweet) it quickly made its way into everything, including baby formula. Finally, in the early 80’s, health professionals all said we needed to reduce the amount of fat consumed in our diets from 40% to 30% to reduce heart disease.
3) these changes had disastrous consequences.
We did it! Only 30% of our calories now come from fat, but obesity and associated metabolic syndromes (including cardiovascular disease (CVD), Type 2 diabetes, lipidemias, hypertension, etc) have simultaneously gone through the roof. It can’t all be blamed on lifestyle choices.
4) a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing – to solve one problem we inadvertently made it worse in ways couldn’t predict at the time because the body is a complicated thing and we still don’t know much about how it works.
Because taking the fat out of food makes it taste like crap, we had to add HFCS as a sweetener to make it palatable. Turns out, however, there were some interpretation flaws with the fat=CVD studies, in part because we didn’t know that there was “good fat” and “bad fat”.
We also didn’t understand that fructose is not metabolized in the same way as glucose (another prominent sugar in our diet). Only a relatively small amount of glucose gets converted to fat. Much of the excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver – you might gain weight this way, but you can basically store an unlimited amount of glycogen without getting sick.
In contrast, almost all the fructose gets converted to “bad fat”. In other words, all the fat we took out of our diets was more than offset by the fat derived from the fructose we added in its place, and we added a lot! Worse yet, when you eat glucose you induce hormonal changes that ultimately signal to your brain that you don’t need to eat anymore. The way in which fructose is metabolized may partially interfere with those signals so you don’t feel as full and you keep eating more than you should.
5) “when God made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote.”
But isn’t fructose normally found in fruit and aren’t fruits good for us? Yes, but the amount we ingest from fruits is way less than what we’re putting in everything else. Fruits have a lot of fiber as well. Amongst other things, fiber limits the amount we eat and the efficiency with which it’s absorbed. Unfortunately, we’ve also taken all the fiber out of our foods in order to increase shelf life, allow for freezing, and facilitate preparation.
6) even though we can see this was a mistake, the myths persist with many folks thinking they’re eating healthy (less fat) when they’re not. Furthermore, there’s a whole set of beholden institutions that oppose correcting the problem.
If this stuff is so bad for us, why don’t the FDA, USDA, etc. do something about it? Food is one of the few things we still export to the rest of the world (along with weapons and entertainment). Who’s going admit that we intentionally make our food less safe? Besides, if you took out the HFCS and put back the fiber the food would taste worse, cost more, and couldn’t be frozen/stored for shipping. You don’t need to be an econ major to do the math.
7) it basically comes down to a choice between being fat or flatulent.
No one is advocating completely cutting fructose from your diet but if you want to start eating healthier, try to reduce the amount of foods you eat with added fructose (in all its various forms) and eat more fiber. You’ll eat less (and feel less hungry), you won’t get as fat, and you’ll greatly reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome diseases.
Every time one of you people speak, you embarrass the rest of us.
Not that my pulpit can do much – and I have remained relatively quiet and sanguine about you so-called “Tea Partiers”- but something very small has broken not just my camel’s back, but also any sense of decorum I have left for you idiots. You want war? You want confrontation? While most other progressives and liberals are content to wring their hands and fret, I am now nearing the point where if it comes to a fair street fight, I’ll be happy to throw punches into your gelatinous guts.
Why do you get all the airtime? I’ve had enough of listening to your crackpot horseshit. It’s like the inmates took over the nursing station and figured out the public address system. Someone needs to take you down with tranquilizer darts, chain you to your own couch, turn on “The Rockford Files” and force-feed you Double-Stuff Oreos until you go back to being the harmless morons you once were.
You are not allowed to use terms, theories or historical events YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND. You throw around the words “fascist” and “Nazi” and “Austrian economics” without any motherfucking sense of what those words mean, or who those people were. You can’t be reasoned with, because you begin the argument so far away from baseline reality that “common ground” is a sick joke.
Hell, your actual name is a testament to how little you understand history. Do you have any sense of what the Boston Tea Party was about? At least you don’t dress up like Injuns when you go to your rallies, but it doesn’t stop you from blaming every other race on earth for your own problems.
And your sickening rallies, with those putrescent signs – you rail against government, call Obama “Hitler” and speak in assassination rhetoric… even though your rallies are held on government-funded lands, which you drove to in your government-buttressed American car, on roads paved by the government. Oh, and you’re able to shout at your rallies because the government controlled the tobacco companies long enough to keep you from throat cancer, and your kids don’t have flesh-eating bacteria because of the Center for Disease Control, and you’re not at work because unions invented something called the weekend.
Truth is, you wouldn’t last one hot second if your paradigm-destruction fantasies came true. Sure, you might be fine with your canned food and your rifles for a few weeks, but after that, you’ll be writhing outside your home in dehydrated agony, covered in sores, with nobody to help you (because you shot your neighbors).
Honestly, I think that’s a place all of you deserve to go. You need your own country. We’ll carve out a part of America that’ll be all yours, and to make you more at home, we’ll shape it like a discharged firearm! I once offered up American Coastopia as a way to cope, but now I’d like to offer you Tea Partiers your own home: Gunland!
Yes, in Gunland, you don’t have a government, no taxes, no census, and nobody telling you what to do. You also have scabies, drink toilet water, and you’ll have to barter your girls for emu meat. Roads don’t actually go anywhere, and it’s hard to cool off when the beaches are covered with crude oil, syringes and human ears. But at least you’re not being bossed around by “Hitler” anymore!
In Gunland, might makes right, and “being too smart” is punishable by quartering. You’re allowed to quarantine the gays, and fire on “suspicious-looking people” near the border, because God will surely sort them out. You will have fun with your Austrian economy (as soon as you learn to pronounce Böhm-Bawerk) and you will grow old with calluses earned from a lifetime of bootstrap-pulling (well, not that old, as your life expectancy will be about 47).
But I’d be careful. There are some pretty awful influenzas going around. And killer bees from Mexico. And you’re right in the path of the most powerful hurricanes in the world. As much as it pains me to say it, stranger, if the finger of God comes along and flicks Gunland’s humanity asunder, you made your choices. You’re on your own, assholes.
Because of some comments, emails, and Facebook messages about the last few blogs, I probably should be less callous and more honest when discussing our physical forms. I’ve definitely had to battle all kinds of body self-loathing issues, many of them instilled early on – I’ve tried not to talk about them much on the blog, but over the years, these things leak out.
My own weight ballooned after my metabolism changed around age 22, and you can see it in the pictures I took at Carolina, as I went from being a stick figure to a marshmallowy fratboy. My weight spent the next 18 years yo-yo-ing around, but I confess: I fucking hated being overweight, even if it was slight. Pictures of me from certain times made me so fucking nauseous that I would go into spasm and lose a shitload of weight out of anger.
the unfathomable 1994 “alterno-chick” Halloween pic at left prompted me to lose 15 pounds by six months later (w/ Chip), right
When I started taking Dexedrine a few months before I turned 40, I did it for lifelong ADD reasons and had no idea about its weight-loss properties. I was flyin’ pretty fat at the time, having joined Tessa in 2004-05 in her pregnancy weight gain, only I wasn’t actually carrying a baby in my belly:
I started the Dexedrine in October 2006, and by January, I was wondering why all my shorts were falling off. By May 2007, I had lost about 20 pounds:
…and it just made everything So. Much. Easier. I could run faster, I started working out regularly, and it heightened my mood immeasurably. Was it a cheat? Sorta. And to be sure, some of these effects weren’t permanent (my depression spiked soon after, and only recently has abated) but keeping the weight off is a priority, not just because it’s healthy, but because I HAVE AN UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP TO THE WAY I LOOK AND FEEL WHEN I’M FUCKING FAT.
There, I said it. I know I may sound like a petulant teenager, or someone not well put-together. It also may sound like I judge others for their weight – after all, if you hate your own weight so much, what’s stopping you from hating theirs? I assure you, it doesn’t work like that.
And so now I can ask you, the world at large (if you will): Do you find yourself hating a part – or a characteristic – of your own body? And specifically, how is your weight and how do you deal with it?
You may answer as yourself, of course, but anonymous animals are always honest-er.
While we’re talking about the whole getting-into-your-forties-gracefully thing, I should get a word in about vitamins or supplements, which remain something that a) someone in their 20s thinks is insane, and b) someone in their 40s will think is a waste of time until they truly start believing there’s a shot at extending their stay on the planet.
My biggest problem about supplements is not the cost (which can be prohibitive), or if they work, but just remembering to take the fuckers every day. And if the supplement demands to be taken more than once a day, I find it offensive. A life that demands shark cartilage capsules every four hours is a life that doesn’t deserve lasting longer.
The misinformation and hype around vitamins and supplements isn’t much better than it was on the Oregon Trail circa 1842, and it tends to originate from some pretty desperate websites and un-rigorous anecdotal evidence screamed in comment sections. Which leads you to Wikipedia or medicine journals, written in language you can’t possibly fathom (check out Wikipedia’s entry on the popular N-A-C supplement).
Thank god for the internet; it views such deficiencies as a virus and works around it. Behold the best graph I’ve seen on the subject yet… the size of the circle is determined by Google hit popularity, and the closer the circle is to the top, the more scientific evidence that it works:
But this is just a snapshot for today. Click on the image itself for the interactive version, updated all the time, with all the relevant info ported into the graph as it comes through trial studies. Kudos to the fine folks at Information is Beautiful – actually putting in a “worth it” line? Brilliant!
It used to be that TURNING FORTY had to be expressed in all caps, and was mentioned either in an existential moan, or as the punchline to a joke. This was the residue, obviously, of an American society that didn’t live past 60, rarely got taller than five-foot-six, and drank asbestos cordials whenever they got the grippe.
In that society, back when our grandparents ruled the earth, forty basically meant the inexorable slide towards the buttery green beans at the steakhouse buffet, and they acted like it: the zoot suits, crazy nylons with the calf seams, and snappy dialogue was instantly replaced by horn-rimmed glasses, blue hair and the failing strength to say something racist from the Barcolounger.
If anything, we’ve overcorrected. The average 40-year-old in today’s urban environment might wear a suit to work, but on weekends, he and his lesser-employed friends don the same shit as early twentysomethings – even if they’re immediately distinguishable by the paunch and that particular thick-neckedness that afflicts every single one of us. The unmarried 40-year-olds are still in skate shoes or unflattering Pumas, cracking wise with chicks half their age over small vials of Jaegermeister. Unfortunately for these ladies, these dudes are actually old enough to be moderately funny.
I can tell you this, however: there is middle ground. In terms of medicine, dietary knowledge, exercise and attitude, 40 can actually be the new 27 without you looking like a total moron. There’s no magic bullet for everyone’s success, but if I were forced to give a bullet list, it’d look something like this:
• don’t be the one who gets fat
• really. don’t get fat. you gained weight around 35, and if you can lose it – in whatever way possible – you’re way ahead of the game
• know yourself. don’t stay up late, drive that extra 150 miles, or play that last game because you think you have to. you don’t have to. you’ve earned the right not to have to.
• don’t wear white sneakers with jeans
• take Vitamin D3, Omega-3/6/9 fish oil tablets, and Co-Q10
• don’t be a luddite. don’t instantly hate new technology just because everyone’s talking about it. if you don’t like Twitter or Facebook or the iPad or something, keep it to yourself, because your complaints are BORING
• remain emotionally elastic, able to absorb new things without instant rejection, take everyone’s viewpoint seriously for at least 30 seconds
• DO NOT LOSE TOUCH WITH OLD FRIENDS. EVEN IF THEY HAVE KIDS. EVEN IF YOU HAVE KIDS. The hive still needs you, and you need it.
Do I always follow all of these? Fuck no (except for the white sneakers thing). But it’s as good a place as any to start, when (in the words of Captain Aubrey) the “blue devils” begin to weigh on your self-perception. If you’re still in the game, you’re still in the game. I remember back in my twenties, when folks in their forties would say “I’m in better shape now and feel better than I ever have,” I’d think “Bullshit, you old fart.” Yet here I am, very clearly able to beat the shit out of myself at 24.
The forties are the age of judgment, when people start to wonder if you are actually going to make your mark, like you said you were all those years ago. It’s the time when you yourself are wondering if you’re still capable of phases, or if this is accidentally who you are. If you want to affect culture, it might seem like time is running out. It has been a long time since you were a teenager – to paraphrase Morrissey, do your songs say nothing to them about their lives?
Probably not, but some truths are universal, and one is that confidence is contagious. To all the wonderful people recently embarked on their forties, add your thoughts if you still want your yawp recorded for posterity, and a very happy birthday to not just my incredible Tessa, but the other of us May babies: Chip, Salem, and especially my brother Sean, who TURNS FORTY today. Whoo-hoo!